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Colorado cat comforting dying residents

12:51 PM, Aug 3, 2007   |    comments
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In March 2006, Selma Sladek was at her aunt's bedside during the final hours.

"I'd been there since early morning. The hospice said, 'Go home.' They knew she'd pass, but couldn't predict when that was going to be," said Sladek.

No one could predict a visit from the hallway either.

"Totally unexpected, here is this cat sitting on a chair in the room," said Sladek.

Sladek and family kindly asked the cat to leave, but Autumn was defiant.

"She sat in the doorway glaring at us," said Sladek.

After returning to the room, once again, Autumn was not welcome.

"This cat had a glare in its eyes, blazing, nothing like I'd ever seen in an animal," said Sladek.

The family simply gave in to Autumn's persistence over the next several hours.

"As I sat down, she jumped up on the bed, curled around the back of my aunt's body and just nestled in around the side of her," said Sladek.

No one, including Selma Sladek's daughter, knew the purpose of Autumn's stay.

"The cat climbed up on my aunt, over her shoulder and smelled my aunt's mouth, she smelled the breath coming from my great aunt," said Adena Sladek.

Selma Sladek's aunt died a short time later.

Autumn would make several more fateful visits to rooms up and down the hall, comforting residents during their final moments.

Veterinarians like Dr. Rhea Dodd at the Firehouse Animal Health Center in Littleton say animals have a strong sense.

"People aren't breathing as well when they get close to the end and I think it's entirely possible cats are picking up on those physiological changes," said Dodd.

Although Dodd says there is no scientific proof that a human body releases a chemical upon death, animals do observe that the end is near.

"I do think cats are present in the moment. I think they pick up on the subtle clues in the environment," said Dr. Rhea Dodd.

Selma Sladek says her aunt was never a cat person before Autumn's caring companionship, but she is grateful for that evening.

"I almost felt like there was a guardian cat, a little guardian angel that was watching over her," said Selma Sladek.

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